How to sketch at life drawing sessions

Life Drawing Academy

How to sketch at life drawing sessions

Question from Mauricio, Life Drawing Academy Correspondence Course student

Hi Vladimir,

I hope you are doing well.

Once in a while, I attend life figure drawing sessions. I started doing it with graphite pencils to keep using and learning the same techniques you were teaching me. It became hard to do it as the marks were very light and it required a lot of time to try to fill even small spaces and the poses usually do not last more than 30 minutes (what they call the long poses!), but most of the poses are 5-10 minutes. I then changed to Charcoal, as it is darker and marks are bigger on the A2 paper size and is what everybody uses in those sessions.

I know that we have not started the figure drawing part of the course, but I would like to ask you a question that is more related with rendering rather than the quality of my drawings at this stage or if I am getting proportions of the human figure right. It is about what kind of rendering technique I should use while attending these sessions. Everybody smudges the charcoal in those sessions, I prefer, on the other hand, to use the same hatching techniques you have been teaching me with graphite because of two reasons: 1) First and most important, because I like the look of hatching much better, for me smudging looks dull (that is what I like your drawings so much, much better than the look that Alexander achieves with Charcoal) and 2) because I can use the same techniques I am learning with you on those sessions. My goal and objective is to be able to draw similar to your style. I know that I will develop my own style with time, but I will use you as my reference.

The question then, is what I should do in the life drawing sessions. One option is to use charcoal and try to hatch as I do with graphite. It requires a long time, and most of the time my drawings will not be near finished because of the time it requires and the length of the poses, but that is OK as I am not looking to produce finished drawings at this stage but just keep practicing and learning. The other option is to use a notebook instead of an A2 size paper and draw with graphite. I have not seen you drawing with charcoal, just graphite, colored pencils and ink, so I am not sure if the reason is because it is not possible to get a good hatching drawing with charcoal.

Many thanks in advance for your answer to this question. I am attaching a couple of drawings where I hatched in some cases and in one case I tried to smudge. The one I like the most, is the hair rendering of the model. I tried to focus just on the hair to have time to hatch and forgot about the rest of the body.

All the best,

Reply by Vladimir London, Life Drawing Academty tutor

Dear Mauricio,

Thank you for your questions. It is very good that you attend life drawing sessions; this is a great way to improve your figurative drawing skills.

1. To smudge or not to smudge is a personal choice when it comes to a chalky medium. Smudging is not suited for smearing graphite, though. Charcoal is a "dusty" medium, like sanguine and chalks. That's why it is fine to smear it to achieve smooth gradations and to fill big areas fast. Also, when smudging chalky media, an artist pushes pigment particles into fibers of paper, which mechanically gives a better grip between pigment and paper tooth. However, such smeared dust lacks visual appeal of hatching and cross-hatching. Hatched strokes are better suited for revealing three-dimensional construction of an object because they can follow its contours.

2. You can combine two ways of rendering - shading and hatching. Shading by smudging gives smooth rendering and builds tonal values fast, while rendering on top with hatching strokes "sculpts" the 3D volume.

3. I have to say that charcoal is not the best medium for that purpose. It is too soft for well-defined strokes. You may try some carbon pencils that are hard enough to be sharpened well and produce marks, which are easy to smudge. Which carbon pencils to use is up to you; this is very much down to personal preferences.

4. When it comes to paper size, using A2 sheets for fast sketching is rather wasteful. You can make several sketches on one large sheet or go for a smaller size, A3 or A4, for example.

5. I have written a very informative article on how to get the most of life drawing sessions.

I hope this helps.

Kind regards,
Vladimir London

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